Students win judicial appeal over unannounced SGA senate meeting

Kayla Solino | @kaylasolino, Assistant News Editor

Two University of Alabama students won a judicial appeal on Thursday that nullified any actions taken by the SGA during its Saturday, Aug. 20 special senate meeting. The meeting was not appropriately advertised to the public prior to its commencement, the Judicial Board said in its ruling.  

The Crimson White was notified on Aug. 19 of SGA President Madeline Martin’s executive order to call the special Senate session to order. Per the order, the purpose of the meeting was to “consider adoption of new Senate Rules and appointment of Senate Officials.” 

Seniors Sarah Shield and Garrett Burnett filed the initial appeal on Aug. 20 against SGA Executive Secretary Josie Schmitt and Speaker of the Senate CJ Pearson.   

The Judicial Board convened on Aug. 24 to discuss the appeal and sided with Shield and Burnett in a response on Aug. 25.  

The special Senate session was held during the SGA 101 event, an “orientation and training event for new and returning members of the legislative and judicial members of the SGA,” per a recent press release from SGA Press Secretary Trinity Hunter.  

Hunter said the SGA fully respects the Judicial Board’s decision on the appeal and said the SGA will continue moving forward and continuing to do their jobs.  

“We 100% respect the judiciary and their role. We respect that they are in charge of the Constitution, everything like that … We are going to do our job and continue to push forward … we’re just going to keep moving,” Hunter said.  

Shield was a candidate for SGA president in the 2022 spring elections. Shield and Burnett, her campaign manager, filed several appeals during last year’s election cycle against candidate Madeline Martin’s campaign. Martin was confirmed president in April 2022 after the elections board dismissed complaints against her campaign.  

Last week’s appeal said that one definition of an open meeting provided in the SGA Code of Laws states that an open meeting is “a prearranged gathering of quorum of a body, committee, or subcommittee to exercise the powers it possesses or approve the expenditure of funds.”  

Shield and Burnett said in their appeal that “there was a requirement for the public to be notified of this event and for there to be time set aside for the public to voice comments and/or concerns.” 

All open meetings are required by the SGA Code of Laws to be both announced and communicated to the student body. The Code of Laws also states that the executive secretary must be notified of a meeting’s time, date, and location, and that the executive secretary is additionally responsible for “posting all meeting information on the SGA website within twelve hours of receiving notification.” Furthermore, the SGA stipulates their commitment to public transparency within the Code of Laws.  

Although the docket for the special Senate session was posted on the SGA website, Shield and Burnett said there was “no student-wide notification of the date and time of [the] session.” 

“There should not be an expectation for members of the student body to have to check the Legislative documents tab of the SGA website daily just in case there happens to be a special Senate session held. The members of SGA are supposed to be “students serving students”, which clearly was not at the top of their minds with this special session of the Senate,” Shield and Burnett wrote.  

They called for the nullification of the Senate session in the appeal. 

“The Student Government Association simply cannot be allowed to ignore their own rules and operate in a manner that [suits] them with no consequences. There must be accountability,” the appeal read. 

Chief Justice Caleb Thome agreed that the session “was an open meeting as defined by the Code of Laws, and yet did not fulfill the guidelines outlined in this governing document,” in his response to Shield and Burnett.  

Thome ordered that the SGA “nullify all decisions made during the special senate session held on August 20th, 2022, and as a result, reintroduce each item that was held on the docket during that meeting.” Thome also ordered the SGA to post “times, dates and a standard location for each senate meeting on the official Student Government Association website and social media” to ensure students are aware of the opportunity to voice their concerns and attend Senate sessions.  

Upon the decision of the judicial board, the two pieces of legislation voted on at the Aug. 20 session were re-voted on at the Aug. 25 senate session. Both the resolution to create a Senate position of director of initiatives and a bill to approve the Senate rules and regulations were passed unanimously. The Senate parliamentarian was also confirmed.   

Additionally, a bill to update the verbiage of the SGA Code of Laws to accurately reflect the responsibilities of the vice president for diversity, equity, and inclusion was passed unanimously.